7 Database Goals for Your Independent School’s Capital Campaign

When evaluating your school’s readiness for a capital campaign, database readiness might not be at the top of the list for your campaign consultants or administration. But you and I know it’s critical to maintain a robust and up-to-date CRM. And for a capital campaign, data-driven decisions depend on you and me, the unsung data nerds operating quietly in the background. We work hard to transform basic input into high-quality data. Just as a successful capital campaign follows defined steps and milestones, so does the work of a database manager—nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes tasks to keep the campaign moving toward its goal.  

Whether you’re testing the waters during the feasibility study or already knee-deep in pledges, let’s work alongside the traditional capital campaign timeline so you can meet seven database-specific goals for your independent school’s capital campaign.   

Campaign Step 1: Pre-Campaign Planning  

Your Database Goal: Audit Your Database 

While administrators are busy planning wish lists and the case for support, you’re concerned with streamlining basic day-to-day operations, such as reconciliation with the finance office, constituent codes, employee gifts processed through payroll, and managing duplicate records, in addition to these primary goals:  

  • Complete audit queries. If a regular audit process isn’t already part of your operations, try adding a couple of audit queries to ensure key fields are correctly coded to catch anything that may fall through the cracks. An audit query can be as simple as looking for data entry errors, like a recent cash gift with a gift date of two years later. This could spur new data entry rules like restricting a gift date used in a current appeal to match the fiscal year.   
  • Review reporting. Work closely with administrators to identify reports that need to be run and the metrics to track during the campaign, which will inform your fund setup and gift entry process. Agree on a report format and frequency so everyone knows what they need to report on and how often.  
  • Fine-tune your fund setup. Several organizations I’ve worked with have had Fund and Campaign records set up backward, which caused a struggle when adding multiyear pledges and producing consistent pledge reminders. This could be especially troubling in a capital campaign when an influx of new pledges quickly becomes overwhelming. It is also directly related to the fund cash flow reports your finance office depends on.
    • PRO TIP: Comb your active funds and assign them with a category and type, conforming to CASE reporting standards as closely as possible. New funds created during the campaign will require the same treatment. If your school participates in the annual NAIS-DASL survey, you’ll have a much easier time with data entry. 

Campaign Step 2: Feasibility Study 

Your Database Goal: Address Data Health, Prospect Research, and Reporting  

While the broader team is busy with the feasibility study, you’re reviewing the results of your database audit and should have a better sense of what is in—or is missing from—your database. In partnership with advancement colleagues, seek out tools and services that enhance the quality of your data.

  • Add wealth screening services. Identify major donor giving potential and help build the gift pyramid, a crucial step in the first two phases of a campaign. According to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), 76.8% of dollars received in 2022 came from fewer than 2.2% of donors. Gifts from prospects on the top of your giving pyramid are necessary to meet your campaign goal. Many tools are available on the market, and professional prospect researchers recommend finding the best wealth-screening solution for your needs.  
  • Add data health tools. Some are a must, like the quarterly National Change of Address, or NCOA updates (U.S. only), Address Accelerator, Online Data Review Tool, and DeceasedRecordFinder™ data hygiene tools from Blackbaud.  
  • Check out news alert services. AlmaConnect or Insightful can help your department stay on top of prospects by finding mentions of them in the news or even finding job updates on LinkedIn.  
  • Add data reporting and visualization tools. A monthly report should not take an entire day to produce. Look for tools to create no-code dynamic dashboards that update your totals instantly. Microsoft PowerBI is extremely affordable with an education license, though it does have a learning curve.   
  • Hire a prospect researcher. Bringing on or consulting a prospect researcher might seem like a luxury for smaller shops, but they play a vital role throughout the capital campaign. An experienced prospect researcher can be a great partner to the database manager and transformative for the entire advancement department. Professional prospect researchers can help with key processes:  
    • Organizing and maintaining data  
    • Reviewing and confirming results of data screening services  
    • Adding notes and context to donor profiles 

Campaign Step 3: Campaign Planning  

Your Database Goal: Review and Revise Processes 

The campaign is now at the board-approval stage, building the steering committee and identifying naming opportunities. You are focused on policies and procedures. 

  • Brush up on planned gifts. Planned gifts have the potential to make up a large chunk of campaign dollars raised—30% or more in a comprehensive campaign. Recording these major gifts correctly now will help your campaign reach its goal and ensure that this special gift type receives proper recognition and stewardship while your donor is still living. Confirm that signed planned gift intentions are scanned and available in your database and that the gifts are recorded correctly to pull into fundraising totals.  
  • Review pledge, planned gift, and fund agreements. You’ll want these ready for gift officers in the next phase. Consider electronic agreements to allow for e-signatures. Otherwise, plan a process to receive, scan, and store all signed agreements. Use a secure shared drive to safely store these files and any applicable backup so they can be accessed by your finance and advancement offices for questions or audits. 
  • Clean up portfolios. In partnership with the prospect researcher, meet with gift officers to identify, drop, or assign prospects. This includes meetings with board members and anyone else making direct asks.  
  • Improve proposal tracking. When portfolios are assigned, create or review the campaign proposal process. Your school’s administrators or steering committee will expect periodic status updates on outstanding major donor proposals, and you’ll be able to answer those “Are we there yet?” questions.  
  • Review, code, and group your VIPs. You already know which constituencies, such as board members and giving societies, your school communicates with regularly. Build or review these lists or queries for each fiscal year. You’ll need them often for campaign events, updates, and future stewardship reports. 
  • Review your gift acceptance policy. While the work of creating this policy should be left to the campaign administrators/board, you will use it as a guide to lay out how campaign gifts will be counted and reported.  
    • PRO TIP: Let’s be honest, it’s much easier to point to your gift acceptance policy when a prospective donor wants to “gift” your school with something that would cause more trouble than it’s worth!     

Campaign Step 4: Quiet Phase  

Your Database Goal: Start Testing! 

The behind-the-scenes solicitation of major donors begins now, so you’re focused on ensuring your database and refreshed procedures are ready for kickoff. 

  • Test your reports, pledge reminders, and acknowledgment letters. Use your first major gifts to run reports and test your operations. Make the process scalable as the number of gifts, donors, and overall campaign pace increases. If it’s a slow, manual process now, it’s only going to get more hectic! Work out the format and/or frequency of reports because this is when requests start to pile up. A band-aid approach will not serve you for long.
    • PRO TIP: Don’t be afraid to experiment with tools using automation (Power Automate) or AI to free up time later. Your industry peers and consultants are already creating custom, fully automated flows that will blow you away (and increase efficiency in the process!)
  • Build your solicitable base. Take the time to look at your solicitable base now or any time ahead of the public phase. Ensure you’re asking the right constituencies for support and that your campaign is hitting participation by percent based on those constituencies, a common goal for tracking campaign progress. Your solicitable base number will change slightly year over year. Capture and track this information for benchmarking purposes.  
    • PRO TIP: Confirm that the solicit codes on prospects are correct by checking notes, actions, and gift history. If you’re not currently making a note in your database for why a prospect was marked “do not solicit,” start now. You may be able to add a constituent who hasn’t been engaged in years (but remember that renewing your connection should not begin with an ask for financial support!) 

Campaign Step 5: Campaign Kickoff  

Your Database Goal: Celebrate with Your Colleagues! 

Take a moment to enjoy the excitement with your colleagues and school community, and use it to fill up your tank for the work to come.

  • Eat a cupcake (really, you deserve it).    

Campaign Step 6: Public Phase  

Your Database Goal: Enter the Public Phase 

The public phase will kick things into high gear with gifts of all types and sizes. 

  • Document as you go. Microsoft OneNote is a fantastic option for sharing, searching, and updating policies between departments.  
  • Continue to audit your gift entry. Review fund coding for existing and newly created funds. Check in with your finance office to make sure reconciliation is working for them.  
  • Make giving easy. Capital campaigns encompass a range of giving strategies, making it beneficial to have a selection of donation forms.
  • Get stewardship right. Work with gift officers, finance, and stewardship to set up new funds correctly and respect donor intent (you don’t want a fund meant for a capital project going instead to a scholarship with a similar name.)   

Campaign Step 7: Stewardship  

Your Database Goal: Stewardship 

For you and your team, this stage is all about getting to the ribbon-cutting event.

  • Remember that stewardship is ongoing. Stay on top of pledge reminders and acknowledgment letters, and continue to audit gift entry and coding, especially before running your financial reports.
  • Record everything. Make certain that naming opportunities are recorded in your database, in addition to stewardship reports and donor interactions.
    • PRO TIP: Celebrate a job well done. (Have another cupcake!)  

Want to learn more about capital campaign planning for your school? Check out the K–12 Fundraiser webinar series, free and on-demand.